Kerala ministers meet Cardinal Cleemis to resolve snowballing buffer zone protests

Thiruvananthapuram: To appease the farmers who are up in arms against the government over the buffer zone poll, Ministers Roshy Augustine and Antony Raju met Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church on Tuesday.

Earlier, during the protest against the Vizhinjam port, the government approached the cardinal to intervene. It is believed that he helped to solve the matter.

The Catholic Bishops’ Council of Kerala has alleged that an aerial survey conducted to assess the impact of the proposed 1 km eco-sensitive zone has left thousands of structures unaccounted for. That the data collected is not sufficient to argue in the Supreme Court and seek relaxation in the buffer zone.

The ministers met the Cardinal at the home of the Bishop of Pattom here. Although the ministers denied the meeting was about the buffer zone, Roshy said the cardinal “normally participates in all such matters” and there was no need for the government to request it.

Augustine said the government’s intention was to correct the “shortcomings” of the satellite survey and provide the necessary assistance to the people and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has also made it clear that there was no concern.

He further said that the reason behind the Supreme Court’s order for a survey was to ascertain whether mining activities were being carried out within one kilometer of forests and sanctuaries, wildlife and forests were being destroyed and the biodiversity of the area had not been damaged.

“In my opinion, no mining activity is carried out near such areas, no one hunted wildlife by entering the forests or sanctuaries and no damage has been done to the biodiversity,” Agustin said.

Meanwhile, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan said that such matters were part of the day-to-day administration of the elected government and were not within his purview.

However, any violation of the law or deviation from the prescribed norms “will come into the picture,” Khan told reporters in Kozhikode.

He said that today no one has filed a complaint or request regarding this issue and if someone does, he will forward it to the relevant authorities who are responsible for making a decision.

“I try not to let any request go unaddressed,” he said.

Vijayan on Monday called a high-level meeting in the wake of his government’s alleged “hasty” satellite survey of forest areas and threats of agitation by the Congress and some religious organizations.

The Congress threatened that there would be riots, like those against the SilverLine project, if the Left government did not abandon its alleged “indifference” and address the public’s concerns on the buffer zone issue.

Vijayan and Kerala Forest Minister AK Saseendran have also admitted that the satellite survey does not cover everything and further said that it will not be the final report placed before the Supreme Court or the Centre.

Objections to the state government’s satellite survey report have been gaining momentum for the past few days, with residents of the affected areas, Congress parties and Christian religious organizations calling the survey “inaccurate” and “lacking clarity”.

The Supreme Court had in June ordered the maintenance of a 1-km buffer zone around forests and sanctuaries across the country. Against this, both the Center and the Kerala government have filed review petitions in the apex court.

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